Does your body language make your staff fear you?

28 Jun 2018 By Simon de Cintra

Most people dismiss the importance of non-verbal communication, but Simon de Cintra reveals how HR professionals can use it to their advantage

Your body language heavily determines whether your business voice is one that could command legions of followers or one more akin to a whimper at the back of a crowded staff canteen. As an HR professional, you need to manage this effectively to build successful relationships with workers. 

Luckily, your non-verbal signals are within your control. But have you ever considered that you might be rewarding or punishing others with your non-verbal communication? You are always communicating in some way, even if you think you are giving nothing away.

As with anyone in a certain position of authority, you might exercise caution in what you say or the tone you use with your employees, depending on the situation. However, you might be giving much less attention to your non-verbal communication. From my experience, this area is often neglected in the business environment. 

Employees will read all the non-verbal signals you give off before they even hear or comprehend a word you say. No matter how hard you try, you cannot turn off your non-verbal communication, so you must be aware of how you are portraying yourself to maintain a happy work environment. 

In my workshops, I illustrate this point with an exercise that achieves the same result time and time again. I will randomly pick a handful of participants and take them outside. I will then give them the task of walking back into the room, one at a time, and doing a lap of the room, trying to be as neutral as possible, as if not taking in any of their surroundings. 

Meanwhile, unbeknown to those outside, those still inside have been told to make a mental note of the effect each person entering has on them. The individuals will then write down the signals the person entering the room had given off and the impression they had on them. After the participants have completed their laps, I reveal the briefs to both groups, along with the words used to describe the individuals who had walked into the room. The words always follow a similar theme – ‘disinterested’, ‘preoccupied’, ‘distant’, ‘bored’, ‘in a hurry’ and in some cases even ‘angry’ or ‘annoyed’. 

These results show how much of an impact your body language has on your employees. No one intends to have this effect on those they are trying to influence or manage. This exercise indicates the difficulty and potential downside of trying to use and manipulate your body language to be perceived as neutral in the workplace.

The lesson is playing it safe with non-verbal communication is a false security, because dialling down your body language, eye contact and facial expressions too much is likely to be interpreted negatively by your workforce. 

Once you are aware of the impact your body language has on your employees, you can take steps to address it, such as using good eye contact, not crossing your arms and monitoring your tone of voice. All will help an employee feel listened to and valued by their HR team.

Simon de Cintra is founder of MyFirstTrainers and author of Unlock Your Business Voice, published by Rethink Press. He has 25 years of business experience and provides coaching and mentoring for people looking to gain confidence with public speaking or wanting to learn how to lead and influence others

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